Monday, April 12, 2021

Return to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

I returned to volunteer duties at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens this week. In March of 2020, volunteers were put on hiatus during the pandemic. A few months, is what I thought at the time. A few months turned into a year-plus. We're still not out of it but the vaccine and safety measures brought us to a point where we can return to some public activities. 

Touring the Botanic Gardens Conservatory and its grounds are among them. Hours are limited and safety protocols are in place. There is no mandatory mask policy but I wear one as do other staffers and volunteers. All three floors of the Conservatory are open. The Children's Village held its Color Festival yesterday. Based on the Holi Festival in India, it led to a bunch of very colorful families coming over for the tours once they painted themselves with colored chalk. They all looked so happy to be out doing fun things on a sunny spring day. It was a great day for me, too, as I was happy to be back at the Gardens introducing people to its treasures. 

I met a retired couple from Casper out with their adult daughter who now lives in Cheyenne. I met a young man from Massachusetts wearing an Orlando Jai Alai T-shirt and we talked jai alai and permaculture. A group of guitarists and wedding planners came by to practice songs for the upcoming wedding at the Gardens. A group trooped in to hold a baby shower. A middle-aged bearded man in his 40s from Santa Fe walked with a cane and we talked about heart conditions. His sounded a lot worse than mine. He may move to Cheyenne to be closer to family. 

Many young couples visited, some with babies and others looking like they were on their first dates and getting to know one another. I discussed growing giant sunflowers with a woman from Denver. At the close of day, a photographer came in with her model to shoot some scenic photos (the Gardens only allows photography before and after hours). She said she saw some photos taken at the Gardens by another FoCo photog and wanted to shoot the place herself.

I spent time acquainting myself with new procedures. I ate my bag lunch -- no more food items in the Tilted Tulip Gift Shop. I leafed through the binder of CBG memorials which had been assembled by staff during the break. Many trees and flowers dedicated to loved ones. Plaques and pavers and benches, all done as remembrances. 

I thought about my father, a dedicated gardener who learned from his gardener father when growing up in Denver and transferred his skills to a very different Central Florida climate. He enjoyed year-round gardening at home and tending the plants at St. Brendan the Navigator Catholic Church, the same one I was married in. Dad nurtured tropical plants and battled tropical bugs and diseases. Different challenges from those we face in Wyoming.

The Pandemic of 2020-21 is not over yet. Covid-19 may be with us forever, just like the common cold which is related to the current plague. Gardening provides hope as well as food. When you dig deeper into it, you learn about dirt and bacteria and chemicals and the origins of your plants and flowers. Covid emerged from the natural world to infect and kill millions. I was afraid at the beginning of the pandemic. Now that I've been injected with a vaccine that is based on dogged scientific research, I am less afraid. Messenger Ribonucleic Acid (mRNA) provides instructions to our body on how to make a viral protein to trigger an immune response.

At my front-desk station, I checked in more that 240 visitors. The second-largest count of 2021 after that wonderfully warm Saturday before Easter. I will be there every Thursday and Friday afternoon through April. Come by, tour the place, and talk to me about the art of growing things. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

In Trump Sonnets, poet Ken Waldman tracks how America lost its mind

I just received a copy of Ken Waldman's "Trump Sonnets, Volume 8: The Final Four Months."

This is good news/good news. Another book of Trump sonnets to read. And, as the title says, "final" four months of the Trump scourge. A traumatic four months. A traumatic four years. Poet M.L. Liebler, who published the book at his Ridgeway Press in Michigan, writes in the foreword:

Ken has successfully brought form to the most unformable and unformidable, mean-spirited, fly-by-the-seat-of-his pants scoundrel who did his damndest to take this country down.

Waldman takes us through the final four months through sonnets in the POV of Americans: a dog walker in Brooklyn, a prison guard in Lexington, Kentucky, and a house painter in Hilo, Hawaii. Closer to home are the words of a baker in Cheyenne and a locksmith in Casper. The baker rhapsodizes about the two Q Girls who are "both up for war against Democrats." The locksmith is more thoughtful. He (I think it's a he) says that a civil war may be on the horizon but is wary of "citizens desperate or angry enough" to assassinate a Supreme Court elder or "wayward" senator. There is also an architect in Fort Collins who blasts the "toxic idiocy" of those who believe that Trump won the election. The Brooklyn dog walker sums it up this way: "Put them behind bars -- him, Jared, the kids. Or send them to Mars."

We hear many voices. I've been reading the selections in a more lighthearted mood than I did the first seven "Trump Sonnets." That is because T has disappeared from public view and is no longer on Twitter to rattle my world. He also is gone from the White House which he treated like his own Scarface villa (he already has one of those in Mar-a-Lago).

As evident during Waldman's 35-year career as an itinerant poet and fiddler, he has a keen wit and is always busy creating. He's published 19 poetry and prose books and nine CDs that "mix Appalachian-style string band music with original poetry." As a touring artist whose home base is in Alaska, most of his gigs since March 2020 were cancelled or postponed. He's been featured at the Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey, the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, Australia, and the Word of South Festival this weekend in Tallahassee, Fla. He's also conducted residencies in more than 200 schools, including ones in Casper and Cheyenne. He's also served as a judge for Wyoming Arts Council literary fellowships.

Front Range dwellers can see him on stage on May 22, 7 p.m., at the Lakewood Cultural Center in Lakewood, Colo. He will appear with Willi Carlisle and special guests Ben Guzman and Colin Gould. Tickets are $27 and you can get them here

I will file volume eight with Waldman's one through seven in my presidential library. My grandkids, if I ever have any, might like to read them and see how America lost its mind in the 21st century. 

You can't actually buy the book until September 1. Get more info at the Trump Sonnets site or Waldman's home page. The book will be distributed by nonprofit literary book distributor Small Press Distribution at orders@spdbooks.org. 

Thursday, April 01, 2021

A poem a day keeps the nighttime devils at bay

Every night before sleep, I call up the Poetry Foundation page and read the poem of the day. It's an eclectic mix, featuring classical bards and contemporary voices. In the last week, I've read work by Grace Paley, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Amy Lowell. Lowell's "Lilacs" was featured the other night. I read it twice, not to make me tired but to fix the look and scent of lilacs in my mind so my dreams are more lilacs and less horror story. 

Dream experts say that we can do this, fashion our dreams before sleep. I'm only partially successful at this. Maybe it's a holdover from the bedtime prayer that my parents taught me. Here it is:

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I should die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take

The key element is "if I should die." This is not a comforting thought for a six-year-old. I say my prayer and settle in for a quiet night of hellfire and brimstone. It lingers there among the more positive terms such as sleep and soul and Lord. My late brother Dan often complained about his insomnia. I never thought to bring up the horrible prayer that we recited every night. The current version of the same prayer goes like this:

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

May angels watch me through the night

And wake me with the morning light

Much more comforting to have angels watch me in the night. Most angels then were beautiful winged creatures bathed in heavenly light. So preferable to horned devils rising from the fiery pit. Our choice was clear: angel or devil. If we chose devilish behavior, we could confess the transgression in confession, say a bunch of prayers, and start over again. That was the wonderful thing about the American Catholicism of my youth -- a promise of better days ahead. If I disobeyed my parents or conjured unclean thoughts, I could spill it to the priest, a shadowy figure behind an obscuring curtain, the kind CNN reporters use when interviewing whistle-blowers or mobsters. Once released, I could say my penance and flee to play baseball with my friends or to sin again -- my choice. 

Lowell's "Lilacs" is a beautiful poem, one that the nuns may have made me read, although Sister Theresa was more likely to assign us rhyming couplets. A description of "Lilacs" called it a patriotic poem. Lowell was a Boston Brahmin, a New Englander to the core and related to Harvard presidents and famous scientists. She may have had to say the same bedtime prayer as I did. That prayer comes from The New England Primer, the first reading text in the American colonies. It was published by printer Benjamin Harris who so hated and feared Catholics that he fled to the Americas during the brief reign of James II. Quoted on Wikipedia, New Hampshire senator and former college English prof  David H. Watters says that the primer was "built on rote memorization, the Puritans' distrust of uncontrolled speech, and their preoccupation with childhood depravity." No wonder it's still sold online as a text for Evangelical homeschoolers. The primer was based on The Protestant Tutor and taught Puritan children their ABCs: 

In Adam's fall/We sinned all (with drawing of Eve being tempted by big snake and then, presumably, tempting Adam)

My Book and Heart/Shall never part (with drawing of Bible with heart on cover)

Job feels the rod/And blesses God (with drawing of Job plagued by boils and pustules)

My parents were diehard Catholics born in the 1920s teaching their 20th-century children a 17th-century Puritan prayer. This 21st century lapsed Catholic enjoys the irony. Meanwhile, I'll skip the praying and keep reading Heid E. Erdrich, Abigail Chabitnoy, Marilyn Chin, W.B. Yeats, Yusef Komunyakaa and many others. 

Now I lay me down to sleep...

Friday, March 26, 2021

When your hope shrinks, do a small thing to let the sunshine in

I tried to write a piece about the massacre of 10 innocents at the King Soopers in Boulder. Few subjects make me speechless but mass shootings are one of them. Archivists in 2121 may come across articles about massacres of civilians in the U.S. and thank their lucky stars that sensible gun laws finally were enacted in 20__ and that we would never see headlines like this again. That's as hopeful as I can be, that someday the U.S. will lose its cruel streak and the NRA will be bankrupt and all of our gun nuts will die from natural causes. There's hope in that. I liked these lines from a Naomi Shihab Nye poem I came across on the Poetry Foundation web site: 

When your hope shrinks 

you might feel the hope of 

someone far away lifting you up.

I'll write about the hope of small things. 

I bought a small grow-kit from Amazon. Nothing fancy. Just a metal tray, soil, and three seed packets. The chives and Florence fennel sprouted and are on their way to summer salads and desserts. I stuck some basil seeds in with my pot of Thai basil and still waiting for those. I planted chive seeds from hometownseeds.com but got nothing. I’m going to plant again today in a new pot and see if they do better. I like chives and you can put it in all sorts of dishes. But I can’t get it to grow. Best thing to do is buy some chives that already are far along and try not to kill them.

My herbs have taken over the end of the dining room table up against a south-facing kitchen window. The table is Formica laminate and is a remnant of 1950s kitchens. It’s in the mid-century modern (Mid-Mod) school of furniture. We had tables just like it when I was growing up. A perfect match for mac and cheese and meatloaf. I look at the table and see my mother and all of the many Susie Homemaker mothers of the era. My mom also was Anna the Nurse and knew when and when not to patch up our many wounds. When I was 7, our exchanges went something like this:

Me: Mom, I’m hurt! 
Mom: Are you bleeding?
Me: No but… 
Mom (kisses my head): Go outside and play – you’ll be all right.

Sometimes I was bleeding. She applied Mercurochrome to the wound and sent me outside to play. Writing about “Mercurochrome Memories” in ScienceBlogs, dblum writes that the bright-red antiseptic is a mercury derivative of a red dye discovered in 1889. The antiseptic version was developed 20 years later by researchers at Johns Hopkins, source of many of our magic potions and miracle meds. The FDA declared mercury a neurotoxin and it’s no longer made in the U.S. But never fear:

Science tells us that if once you were painted with Mercurochrome, your body has probably stored at least a trace for you. Nothing apparently too dangerous, just a reminder of your chemical past.

My chemical past. As a Downwinder from Colorado and Washington state, I already have some bomb-blast radiation in my body. And traces of lead paint – can’t forget that. I also have mercury in my dental fillings. And then there’s DDT. Damn, if I had known all this, I wouldn’t have lived to be 70 and (I hope) much longer.

I gave up ground gardening a few years ago when a spinal injury prevented bending and stooping. I grow my veggies in containers now. I’ve been successful although gardening at 6,200 feet in a semi-arid region continues to be a work in progress. My seedlings don’t go outside until mid-May. Most insects aren’t a problem but hail and wind and drought are. I keep growing things because it brings joy and I like the challenge of the cherry tomato harvest in August. You can get good ones at the store or farmer’s market. But I like to pick and eat them when they are still warm from the sun. It’s like eating sunshine. We all could use more of the simple act of nurturing a small thing to "let the sunshine in..."

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Snowbound and Covidbound all in the same week

We received 31 or 36 inches of snow in our weekend blizzard, depending on who's doing the reporting. Anything more than 30 inches is a lot so I won't quibble. What I can say is that I haven't been out of my house since last Friday when I ran a couple of errands on a cloudy day with all the weatherpeople saying that you bastards are really in for it with this Snowmageddon. Pshaw, said I. But they were right. 

Our governor announced on March 12 that most Covid restrictions will expire on March 16. On that day, residents from Cheyenne to Casper were practicing weather-enforced social distancing. Cheyenne doctors and nurses were shuttled to work on a snowmobile belonging to a 17-year-old high school student. You can still get around our neighborhood on snowmobile.

By the time the snow abated on Monday, I could not open our front door. Snow on the porch was piled at least two feet of hard-packed snow. A winter snow is usually what they call "champagne powder" at Jackson Hole Ski Resort. It's light and airy enough to blow into a ground blizzard when the wind blows. When stacked up, it's great to ski in. You can glide and carve into it, blowing up white clouds as you make your way downhill. 

Snowmageddon snow is like concrete. I say "is" because it's almost a week later and our neighborhood is a snowscape. A plow made its first appearance yesterday afternoon. It made one pass down the street and then was gone. It created a path wide enough for one vehicle flanked by four-foot walls of snow. The mounds block our driveways so we're still stuck. Not sure what comes next. Melting is going to take a long time. Our food is running out. We are going stir crazy. 

In days gone by, I would have been out there with the shovel as I was in so many other storms. After the Christmas Eve Blizzard of 1982 in Denver, I was outside with my shovel on Christmas Day, shoveling my walks and those of my neighbors in City Park South. Chris and I lived on the top floor of a 100-year-old two-story house. We shared it with a lesbian couple who were our son's first babysitters three years later. We sometimes barbecued together on the tiny front porch. I never knew our neighbors in the basement apartment. 

Our landlord was the one-man Danish counsel for Colorado who owned a tie store downtown. His lavish City Park home had a security gate and was surrounded with cameras just in case the Swedes decided to invade. We sometimes drove over to pay our rent just to see how the other half lived. We wondered how working for Denmark in a remote outpost and selling ties led to such opulence. We imagined that a tie shop on a side street might be a perfect cover for a drug dealer or arms smuggler. We wondered what they made in Denmark that might find a black market in Denver. Cheese danishes? Fjord photos? Reindeer antlers? We didn't know much about Denmark.

So here it is Thursday and maybe I will get out of my driveway and maybe I won't. I haven't shoveled snow since my heart attack in 2013. I rely on a walker (a.k.a. personal mobility device) now. It's possible there exists a walker equipped with a snow blower but I haven't yet looked that up on Amazon. Even if I get in my car and get out of my driveway, I'm not sure about the condition in the rest of my neighborhood. I'm really stuck if I get stuck. 

Our neighbor Mike sent over a couple of teens to clear our walks. They did a good job and we paid them $20. We wanted to make way for the mail delivery person but we haven't got any mail since Saturday. I've been missing those fliers for vinyl windows and life insurance. I might have received a St. Patrick's Day card or two but won't find out for a couple more days. Over the years, I have seen USPS vehicles chained up and struggling through the snow. But chains won't help them get through big drifts of concrete snow.

Daughter Annie has been staying with us during spring break. She has many assignments due next week so we don't see much of her. She ordered a grocery delivery yesterday but didn't tell us. The Instacart person drove up in a massive SUV. She dropped off three 12-packs of Diet Pepsi and packages of toilet paper and paper towels. For edibles, she delivered a family pack of Chips Ahoy cookies, a bag of Cadbury mini-eggs, and a carton of eggs. We quizzed Annie about why she had paid a person to collect Cadbury mini-eggs and Diet Pepsi and drive these crucial, life-giving items through snow clogged streets to our house. We wondered why she hadn't asked us if we needed anything from the store such as bread or peanut butter or soup or spaghetti. You know, necessities for the snowbound.

We're still waiting for an answer.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

State Legislature's Judiciary Committee advances pot bill

The state legislature continues its in-person, maskless session at the Capitol Building. As a group, they are a tempting target for criticism because most of them are GOP knuckleheads of the Trump and QAnon variety. If given half a chance, they would storm their own capitol just because they could. Many bill themselves as Libertarians, some even represent the Libertarian Party. That causes some unusual behavior. They voted a marijuana bill out of committee so the entire chamber can get into the fray. Both Dems and Repubs and Tarians have been known to smoke pot. But they too are growing tired of driving all of the way to Fort Collins to stock up on supplies. They also know that Colorado and other legal states are raking in the dough via steep reefer taxes and they think they might want to horn in on the action. Early estimates for a 30 percent pot tax show that the state could get $47 million in income the first year. That could take a chunk out of the current $500-million plus deficit caused by the decline of coal and the energy severance taxes it provides. If toking coal could have the same impact on the budget as it does heating up the atmosphere, the lege would approve its immediate use. 

But the bill has a long way to go before Grandma can get her hands on some Chugwater Kush or North Platte Knockout. But she may be the first one in line at the dispensary. Senior citizens have shown a real yen for pot legalization. Friends who worked on the recent Wyoming medical marijuana campaign said that the age group most eager to sign the petitions were 60-plus. The reasons are obvious. Nostalgia for all of those heady days in their teens and twenties is a part of it. When Colorado legalized weed, pot tourism, especially with Boomers, became a thing in Denver. It may not be as big now as more states have legalized it. But it may.

More importantly, pain relief. Old people such as myself have pains they treat with Aleve, and, in chronic pain situations, opioids. Seniors have traded in their poisonous Percocet prescriptions for a bag of chronic, some mint-flavored gummies, or even six packs of cannabis craft beer. Unlike our twenty-something offspring, we are less likely to get high and into our cars for quests to find the perfect munchies. We are retired and just stocked up on snacks at Albertson's Senior Discount Day on the first Thursday of every month (don't forget those e-coupons). We can settle into our Lift chairs, get high, and ask Alexa to play Dark Side of the Moon over and over and over again. 

The lege might stun us by legalizing marijuana. More than likely, they will defeat the bill and form an interim committee to study hot pot topics: Will legal pot turn our children into liberals? Will it make our athletes kneel for the national anthem? Will it attract hordes of BLM and antifa activists who will invade the capitol and, instead of breaking windows with flags or smearing shit on walls, will get everyone high and try to levitate the building? Important questions that need much mulling over.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

La Petite Fadette: the novel by George Sand and the silent movie with Mary Pickford

"La Petite Fadette" is a novel by George Sand published in 1849. I'm reading it now after watching a 1915 silent film, "Fanchon, the Cricket," loosely based on the book. I'm a fan of the silents shown on TCM on Sunday night. In "Fanchon," Mary Pickford plays the lead. She was a darling of Hollywood at the time and in 1919 formed United Artists with D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin. She plays Cricket, named for her small stature and hyperactive nature. Some people in the village consider her a witch because that's how the villagers saw her grandmother. Fadette and her little brother Grasshopper live with her in a tumbledown cottage out in the woods.

The cinematic Fanchon falls in love with the local hottie named Landry and scandal erupts because he is from a "good" family and she is not. Common plot line for many books and films. In the end, romance prevails and the two are married. The end.

As the credits rolled, I noticed that it was based on Sand's book. Wonder what the book is like? Despite my time as an English major, I never read any of Sand's numerous works. She's not really a part of the canon, at least when I was in grad school. Women authors were a few in the 1980s version of the big list. An oversight, as she was a woman author when that was very rare, author of many novels (one of my grad school mentors had the 28-volume English language set in his library). Sand was born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin and called Aurore by friends and family. She lived the bohemian life in Paris, wore men's clothing, smoked, and had numerous affairs with the literati and some musicians, Chopin, for one. Victor Hugo liked her work. Sand spent time on the barricades during the 1849 revolution. 

No surprise but "La Petite Fadette" is quite different from the Pickford film. In the novel, Fadette is small and describes herself as ugly, obviously no Mary Pickford, although Fadette is not always reliable in describing herself. She is dirty and wears tattered clothes. Still, she exerts a strong presence. Landry protects her during the village's feast day and even dances the bouree with her, which scandalizes the bourgeoisie. I was taken with the character. She's more outspoken than I expected, less a victim than a young woman trying to find her way in the world. Like her grandmother, she is endowed with mysterious healing powers, which she utilizes late in the novel with Landry's twin brother, Sylvinet. 

The prose is a overwrought, keeping with the style of the era. Long passages of dialogue and description. The author inserts her own opinions. She obviously wrote at a brisk pace which left little time for editing. Chapter 20 seemed to go on forever as Fadette and Landry critiqued each other. By that point, I was attached to the main characters and into the story.  

I am a strong advocate of editing and revising. But sometimes we lose some of the sloppy humanity that's a part of all good books. Think about Dickens and Tolstoy. Dickens was paid by the installment as his work appeared serially over weeks and months. Tolstoy, well, if you've read "War and Peace," you are familiar with endless descriptions of formal balls, philosophical discussions, and Napoleon's very, very long siege of Moscow. It also was first published serially in The Russian Messenger. W&P is wordy and unwieldy. Tolstoy didn't even call it a novel, saying that "Anna Karenina" was his first novel. What can I say -- I see it as a novel.  

George Sand wrote 59 novels and 13 plays. The Russians, especially Dostoevsky, were crazy about Sand's work during her lifetime. She's been featured in at least four Hollywood movies. "A Song to Remember" with Merle Oberon as Sand and Cornel Wilde as Chopin. I can't say I'll read more of her books, although not all are available in English. I have read one, which should please my English professors. It pleases me, too. Oh, and I saw the movie.